6 Tips for Surviving Holiday Food Talk

By Tara Deliberto, PhD

For folks who struggle with eating and food, the holidays can be an especially tough time. There is often an expectation to eat more than usual during the holidays, which comes with a running commentary on everyone’s eating behavior. Remarks after holiday feasts such as “Ugh, I’m so stuffed I won’t let myself eat for days” or “I can’t believe you ate so many cookies” are commonplace. Although these comments may not be made with ill intent, they present challenges for people living with an eating disorder.

In a family unit where everyone is aware of the eating disorder and willing to work together, everyone can agree to not comment or talk about topics such as diets, weight, how much a person ate, or how full someone is.

Too often, however, family members are not active participants in eating disorder treatment. Without active family participation in your treatment, changing the way your loved ones communicate during the holidays can be difficult to implement. Instead, you may have to rely on your own internal coping skills to get through the holidays. Here are six tips for surviving food talk with an eating disorder during the holidays:

6 Tips for Coping with Food Talk During the Holidays

  1. Acknowledge that people will engage in food talk.

Prior to a holiday, know that people around you will almost surely make comments about weight, food, and fullness. It is just bound to happen. By acknowledging and expecting it, you take a step towards acceptance.

  1. Accept that others can make their own food choices.

In order to recover from an eating disorder, you must eat an adequate amount of food. You cannot diet. That being said, people at a holiday celebration may not be in the same place. They are free agents with the ability to diet. Even if we don’t advocate it, people can choose to go on diets. From within the eating disorder mind-set, this may seem very unfair. As such, it is important to work on accepting that what is best for you may not be what another person does.

  1. Set an intention before a holiday to do your best to cope with food talk.

Prior to the festivities beginning on a given holiday, take a mindful moment. Set an intention for the day that you will acknowledge and accept that others will food talk, and use your coping skills to manage urges to engage in eating disorder behavior. For instance, you might take a moment alone, close your eyes, and state: “I know that my family is going to comment on weight, food, and fullness. I accept that this will happen as part of this experience. If I get triggered, I will use coping skills to manage my urges.”

  1. When a general food talk comment is made, you can ignore it.

You do not have to engage with food talk. You can always choose to ignore it or walk away.

  1. Have a prepared response in the event a food talk comment is directed towards you.

If someone directs a food talk comment at you (e.g., “Why are you eating that?”), be prepared with a response (e.g., “I’m just doing what is best for me”).

  1. Set aside time in advance to practice self-care after the holidays.

Because the holidays can be stressful, it is helpful to set aside some time in advance for yourself to decompress after the festivities. For instance, you can watch your favorite show, listen to music, or read a book before going to bed.

Treating Eating Disorders in Adolescents forthcoming in July 2019!

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